Rwanda listed as one of Worlds greatest places 2022, but country’s human rights record is up for debate

Published Jul 15, 2022


Cape Town - This week, American magazine TIME announced its list of the Greatest Places in the World 2022, with Rwanda making the cut on the prestigious list.

But as much as I celebrate this accolade with the people of Rwanda, and don’t get me wrong, there are some incredible developments taking place in the country, I am also reminded of the horrific human rights violations which took place in this very country almost three decades ago, and I have to say that it leaves a sour taste in my mouth, and I’ll tell you why.

Rwanda, the land of milk and honey

“Often described as the friendliest African city, the Rwandan capital of Kigali is pushing toward a green future, especially for its growing tourism trade,” writes American magazine TIME.

Kigali is also upgrading its roads as part of the recently launched years long Kigali Infrastructure Project, which aims to ease congestion, provide more direct connection among hard-to-reach neighbourhoods, and reduce pollution.

Newly created car-free zones, the most recent launched in Gisimenti, let residents and visitors take back city streets on weekends.

According to TIME, more investment has yielded more development in the tourism sector in the last year.

According to Human Rights Watch, Rwanda is one of a few countries in East Africa that does not criminalise consensual same-sex relations, and the government’s policies are generally seen as progressive.

However, the rights advocacy group says that, in practice, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBTQIA+) people have reported facing stigma.

In 2021, Human Rights Watch documented how the authorities arbitrarily detained nine transgender or gay people at the Gikondo transit centre in Kigali.

Rwanda’s Human Rights Report Card

In January 2021, Britain’s Foreign Office reminded Rwanda that as “a member of the Commonwealth, and chair-in-office”, it had a duty “to model Commonwealth values of democracy, the rule of law, and respect for human rights”.

Yet, as recently as last month, the Home Office’s own report on human rights in Rwanda placed it 45th out of 49 African nations in terms of the ability of opposition parties to participate in the political process, 44th in terms of freedom of expression and 47th in terms of freedom from “political killings and torture by the government”, according to Philip Murphy, Director of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies and Professor of British and Commonwealth History, School of Advanced Study.

Between the start of the genocide on 7 April 1994 and the end of the massacres in July the same year, around 800,000 people were killed. Thousands of people were tortured, raped and subjected to other forms of sexual violence. The victims were primarily Tutsis who had been singled out for elimination, as well as Hutus opposed to the genocide and the forces that directed it.

This week, a Paris court sentenced former Prefect of Gikongoro Prefecture Laurent Bucyibaruta to 20 years in jail for his role in the Rwanda genocide.

Bucyibaruta, who has been in court for the last two months, was found guilty of complicity in the massacre of Tutsi at Kibeho secondary school, Marie Merci, where killings targeted Tutsi students between April 14 and 16.

Local media in Rwanda says that Bucyibaruta, who has been dubbed by survivors “the Butcher of Gikongoro”, is specifically accused of masterminding the massacres of Tutsis in Murambi, Cyanika, Kaduha and Kibeho.

Particularly in Murambi, over 50 000 Tutsis were exterminated on Bucyibaruta’s command, making it one of the most horrific killing grounds during the 100-day massacre, according to The New Times.

Rwanda 2021

Violations of the rights to a fair trial, freedom of expression and privacy continues in Rwanda, alongside enforced disappearances, allegations of torture and excessive use of force.

Although the authorities took measures to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic and to promote the right to health, Amnesty International says that ten girls and women were pardoned for abortion-related offences.

Abortion remained illegal in most circumstances, although the 2018 Penal Code introduced exceptions in cases of rape, incest or forced marriage.